Monday, April 28, 2014

Spoiling the Child: DC Adventures

The wife and baby are sleeping at the moment, and my boy is at daycare. There's a lot of things I could (and probably should) be doing at the moment, but drinking some coffee and plugging a few words into the blog feels like the thing to do.

Despite the lack of recent posts, I've spent a lot of time mentally composing posts in my head (not that this is particularly useful to my readers...). Most of these have been on the subject of comic books, superheroes, and superhero RPGs. I really need to sit down and do a week or so of posts on the subject but, well, time is limited these days due to the kids.

Not really the baby, mind you. Having a second child is, in many ways, less a challenge than the first time around. My wife and I know what to expect and how to handle it. I'm more useful than I was before and the whole thing is a lot less I've gotten used to sleeping less than five hours a night over the last three years (a combination of 1st baby, beagles, time zone shifts, early morning jobs, and night owl wife). Yes, I spend a lot of time in "grump mode" but I can survive and function. No, Sofia's actually a bit of a snap at the moment. The real time constraint on my time is the attention I need to lavish on my first born (in addition to household chores). The refrain of "Papa, you play with me" is near constant in my waking hours.

Which isn't a terrible thing, by the way (soon enough it will be "Papa, leave me alone" I'm sure)...but it does use up any time I might have for writing. That's just the fact, friends.

On the other hand, my play with D has been a source of inspiration. One of the reasons my brain is stuck in superhero mode lately is my sharing in my son's obsession with super types. We dress up as, and pretend to be, superheroes, we play with superhero action figures (Fisher-Price has a great toy line for toddlers), we color superhero coloring books, and we read superhero comic books...when we can find ones that are child friendly (Batman '66 is good in this regard and has pretty cool/interesting stories, too).

In fact, it is due to my son that I have a newly acquired appreciation for DC comics and its characters.  I stopped being interested in most of the DC universe (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc.) sometime between the ages of eight and ten with a couple notable exceptions (Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters and the Wally West Flash of the 1990s). I just wasn't much interested in those classic Justice League types, tuning out about the same time Richard Prior starred opposite Christopher Reeves in Superman III. I watched Keaton's first Batman movie mainly because of Tim Burton (and the Prince soundtrack), and failed to catch the rest of the franchise, only picking it up again with the more recent Nolan trilogy. No, for almost all my comic book and movie franchise viewing pleasure, I've been saying "Make mine Marvel" since roughly 1984.

But now? I think I'd pick up an old school Barbara Gordon Batgirl comic over anything X-Men or mutant-esque at the moment. Scratch that: I'm absolutely certain I'd pony up the dough for the former over the latter. Part of this is that Diego loves Batgirl and has very little idea who Wolverine is (he's colored a picture or two)...but I truly mean that's only part of it.

Even Aquaman is pretty damn cool (and my son's second favorite superhero after Batman), and I don't mean the pony-tailed, one-handed warlord version. For what it's worth, my favorite depiction is probably the big-ego (if good-hearted) Aquaman found in the animation Batman: The Brave and the Bold, but Diego and I have (since Paraguay) logged a lot of time viewing old episodes of the 1960s Aquaman on YouTube, complete with "Aqua-Lad" and Tusky, their trusty (somewhat bungling) walrus mascot. Black Manta vies for top position in Favorite Villains of All Time, though he's got stiff competition with Gorilla Grodd.

[a super-intelligent, huge-ass gorilla with mind control powers? What's not to like?]

Good with a filet knife.
But, yeah, I've started to acquire a real appreciation for all those old "cheesy" DC characters: Robin, Hawkman, Supes and Bats, Wonder Woman (who's a little over-powered, if you ask me...), Aquaman, Red Tornado. It still bugs me that DC has uber-powerful characters like Flash and Green Lantern and then the classic bad guys are so weak (Captain Cold, Penguin, Cheetah, etc.). But for a child...and maybe it's because I'm looking at these dudes through the eyes of my child...these power discrepancies don't matter. Diego considers Riddler to be the baddest, toughest bad guy of the bunch "because he has bombs."

[though I believe he considers Gorilla Grodd to be the scariest]

And goons. A bad guy's entourage of goons is a big part of their prestige in my household.

ANYway, having immersed myself in DC supers for the last couple months, it was probably inevitable that I would pick up a copy of Green Ronin's DC Adventures Hero's Handbook, AKA Mutants & Masterminds 3rd edition. I've had the chance the peruse it over the last three days or so ad I'm still having a hard time making sense of it. I mean...ugh. Maybe I'm just getting stupider in my old age, but I got lost right around when they started talking about conditions (even before constructing "power effects"). It seems like the game is part M&M, part "Champions Lite," and part Magic the Gathering (you know, the recent versions of the game where you need to know a bunch of specific jargon for card effects that have been created over eight or ten releases?). My guess is that game play would become relatively easy with practice (as one becomes used to the particular conditions and effects and how they interact) and that character construction (a better term than "character generation" for a process like this) is an art form in and of that can lend itself to abuse and one I don't have much interest in mastering at the moment.

BUT...for a rules crunchy supers game, IF I wanted to play such a thing, it would appear that DC Adventures is the book one would want to have. Much more than HERO System (i.e. Champions) or GURPS Supers or that old Mayfair Games DC Heroes with its logarithmic craziness, it captures much of the "soft reality" of superhero comics/programs that is missing from other meaty systems.

I just don't think I want to play a game that's quite so crunchy. Let me see if my mind changes over the next couple days/weeks as I continue to  digest the meatier bits, but right now the game is more interesting for the lovely artwork and concise information on the DC Universe (in-book character write-ups also include both Black Manta and Gorilla Grodd, though it leaves out both Riddler and the Penguin to my chagrin).

As an aside: I consider Heroes Unlimited and the original Marvel Superheroes RPG to fall into the category of "rules light" RPGs, in terms of both gameplay and chargen. A rulebook doesn't have to be a 30 page indie-publication to be "light." Just so folks understand what I mean when I say DC Adventures is anything but light.


  1. The version of Aquaman in The Brave and the Bold is amazing. I love him to bits and I have next to no interest in DC.

  2. I'm an active Friend of Aquaman (F.O.A.M.) glad to hear you sharing the sea king with your son.

    I played Marvel Universe Roleplaying for years. It's an odd diceless system that worked really well (so long as you trusted your GM.)

    Hideout and Hoodlums sis a pretty great Swords and Wizardry based game that emulates Golden age comics. I really dig it.

  3. I first tried DC as a player and I really liked it. My GM knew the rules well and it's the first game where I was able to play a Green Lantern and it felt right, without feeling like I was breaking the rules.

    I picked up the books and have run a couple sessions with it now, but I am still having trouble getting my head around the rules. There are a lot of little details that are hard to keep track of if you aren't used to it and the design is so different from the games I'm used to running.

    But I enjoyed playing so much that I'm sticking with it. Plus one of my players is the GM who introduced me to it, and he helps me keep it straight.

    1. @ Fractal:

      Thanks for the comment. Yeah, it seems like a tough one to just "pick up and run;" glad to know I'm not the only one that had trouble (thought I was getting dumber in my old age...though that might still be the case)!

      As an aside: Green Lantern is one of those truly nightmarish characters to (attempt to) model in a supers RPG. I've found it nearly impossible without fairly abstract power systems.

  4. pretty nice blog, following :)

  5. @ Kelven, Blue, and Stu:

    So much Aquaman love! Now I am wishing I'd gotten around to posting my planned post specific to the Sea King!
    : )

    1. Um, no, there's nothing very cool about Aqualad, Stu.
      ; )

  6. This is so weird for me to read.

    I long time DC-over-Marvel fan since I was about 6, I now can't remotely stand anything DC is putting out. The fact that you mentioned showing DC comics to your little boy initially had me shocked and appalled. What nu52 book currently being published could you possibly show a child? It's all blood, guts, smut and terrible, horrible people I would want to have save me in a million years.

    Ah, wait, Batman '66. OK. Maybe some of the coloring books. The Brave and The Bold type stuff. OK, yeah.

    The additional books in the series have Riddler, Penguin and dozens upon dozens of other characters. Also, the setting and information in the DC Adventures game is all pre-nu52 so in many ways the game is better than the comics.

    1. @ BA:, I'm not really showing the COMICS to the boy (well, with the exception of Batman Detective #493). At the comic book shop the other day, it really took us a long time to find ANYthing (before I remembered Batman '66) because every cover was spattered with blood or hideous monsters or zombies or giant bugs/worms. Really...bugs and worms?

  7. Nice post! Man, you hit the mark on where I am at now and I am proud to say my two girls of 4 and 6 can name most DC and Marvel heroes, villains and supporting cast! Children really can bring the old stuff back. And Aquaman is king! ;)

  8. The conditions is the part that lost me as well, and a large part of why DC Adventures (a gift) just sits on the shelf. Too hard to get through.

    Superworld, on the other hand, is seeing quite a lot of action.

  9. If you're looking for superhero action without the massive crunch, I'd definitely recommend checking out BASH, which is much like Champions except scads less complicated and math-driven.

  10. @ Gary:

    I took a good, hard look at Bash, Icon, T&J and maybe a couple other "lite" indie games in the genre. The one I ended up purchasing (to add to my ever-growing collection) was Simon Washbourne's SUPERS! which had at least one thing to recommend it over all the others: a chapter on facing Disasters! ("it's not all about catching criminals") with simple, consistent mechanics.